- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

LONDON — A lack of political direction, a shortage of soldiers and “complete disconnection” between Britain’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense combined to hinder progress in the war in Afghanistan, a report by British military chiefs has concluded.

The document, drawn up by senior officers from the 16th Air Assault Brigade, gives a withering assessment of how decisions in the British government prevented progress against the Taliban and, sources claim, contributed to deaths and injuries among soldiers.

The report, the first official assessment of the conflict, says the operation suffered from a “lack of early political direction.”

It concludes that insufficient numbers of soldiers went to fight the Taliban and complains of differences between the Foreign Office and Defense Ministry over counternarcotics policy.

The report, written at the end of last year, is working its way up the military chain of command. It states that the forces sent to Afghanistan could have achieved more and suffered fewer casualties if greater numbers had gone at the start.

“Lessons learned” from the campaign suggest that if commanders had been given more troops, they would have been able to properly man bases in the notorious towns of Nowzad, Sangin and Musa Qala, where 12 soldiers died between June and September.

Although the report does not specify how many extra troops would have been required, senior commanders say the initial force of 3,500 needed a further 1,000 combat troops, together with extra helicopters and support units.

One senior officer who has seen the report said that with a larger force, Brig. Ed Butler, commander of the 16th Air Assault Brigade, would have had greater flexibility to conduct “rapid reaction operations” against the Taliban and begin “reconstruction in the so-called Afghan development zone.”

Troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade deployed into Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, last May as part of an expansion of the International Security and Assistance Force into the south of the country.

Over a 12-week period, elements of the brigade became embroiled in the most intense fighting since the Korean War.

The troops were involved in dozens of bitter battles with the Taliban during which every weapon system, from the assault rifle to Apache attack helicopters, was used to kill insurgents.

After the deployment was announced last year, John Reid, then the defense secretary, consistently denied that the force was under strength, despite high-level unofficial briefings in which senior officers said that commanders needed extra infantry, helicopters and logistics troops.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said, “Extra troops were only requested on one occasion and they were sent. The whole point of a post-operational report is to learn lessons.”

Patrick Mercer, a spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, said: “It was clear all along that not enough troops were being sent and that this was a political and not a military decision.”

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